Sunday, April 6, 2014


Ice several feet thick had to be broken by machine in order
to open the approach to the Potato Dock Saturday afternoon.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

It's not over yet, Old Man Winter, and we were reminded of that fact Friday, with 4-5 inches of heavy, wet snow.  We saw a brief let-up around noon, then snowfall resumed, even harder, in the late afternoon.  Large disks of lake effect snow were whipped by high winds.

Those winds, which strengthened and backed toward the north, were enough to stream heavy ice through the Door Passage into the lake.   This, coupled with hampered visibility for what was in the ferry's route,  brought cancellation of the first Friday evening trip of 2014.  By Saturday morning the snow had ended, and the sky was sparkling clear - and ground cover sparkled, too.    Fresh snow stuck in the trees, and the air temperature was at 23 degrees at 7 a.m.

With a few passes of the shovel, clear patches here and there, the rest was left to intense sunshine.   Most of our snow was gone or on its way out by late afternoon.

The Roen crew had arrived at the end of the week to get their equipment running.  Saturday morning their tug was operational and the crew broke out their crane barge.  By Saturday afternoon they were engaged in opening up the area next to the Potato Dock, so that dredging can begin soon and scows of spoils can be pushed alongside that pier for offloading.  The channel dredging project should move forward this week if ice and wind don't interfere with the maneuvering of the scows or with the rather delicate silt curtain, a requirement while when digging takes place.  (As of Sunday afternoon, the northern half of the channel in Detroit Harbor had broken ice, floated in and held by southerly wind.)

School Navigators Unit is a success

One point I want to relate was the great success Washington Island Schools Navigators unit.   The unit began, if you'll recall, with a trip aboard the Arni J. Richter on St. Patrick's day, March 17.

This Friday afternoon, with their work completed, students and staff hosted an Open House for the community at Washington Island School.  All ages and all grade levels participated in this project.  Clearly, each class put in a great deal of work and thought on this project.  I was impressed with the quality of their end-product, and the enthusiasm the students showed for their work, which was designed to help them learn more about their community, past and present, and learn new skills in the process.

In the 4-6 grade room, Ryan, Max and Aidan showed Mary Jo and I around their computer website, after ensuring we were property greeted, then comfortably seated, to observe their product.  Mary Jo was one of several Islanders interviewed as a former student of the old Detroit Harbor School, but there were many interviews done by the students.  They set up the interview appointments and asked the questions, and took notes, and later wrote up their notes, which can be seen on their website, along with photos.

Elementary school children listen to early
Islanders' stories onboard the Arni J. Richter.
Students, even the lower grades, became adept
interviewers, researchers and historians during the
following weeks.
You can learn about their Navigator unit, too.  Go to the school's website, and from there you'll find pages for each grade levels.   Given a close look you'll see the results of their many hours of interviews, research, and discussion.  It's a masterful job by both staff and students, and should itself be entered into the Island Archives.

Here is the web address:        click on:  WINS Spring 2014 Voyage

Birds and such

Aside from the fresh snow, the first thing I noticed Saturday morning when I looked out the window toward the harbor was a large bird with the appearance and size of a hawk struggling to subdue a duck.  This struggle took place about 15 feet from the edge of a small opening in the ice where springs keep the ice from freezing.   According to fresh tracks in the snow the larger bird and duck had already dragged about 20 feet.   The duck, using all of its remaining strength, was scooting the pair toward the opening's edge.

I was too excited at this point to grab a pair of binoculars or my camera as the drama unfolded.  I expressed an inner "Yes!" when the duck maneuvered itself into the water, large bird still firmly attached.  If it can make it to the pond, I thought, the larger bird might let go.  But, with equal grit and determination, and superior strength, the hawk-like bird pulled the duck back onto the ice.  Once on its back, the duck's feet went skyward in classical, almost cartoonish style, and they ceased to kick.

With a fleeting chance for a good Falcon photo,
my camera was set on autofocus.  As a result the foreground
branches are sharp while the bird is out of focus.
Within seconds (and this whole scene unfolded in less than two minutes) the large bird took off with its prey to one of the trees east of our home, out of sight.  This bird had a meal, and I suppose I should add deservedly so, given the work put in.

In about half an hour this same bird appeared again and roosted in a branch above spring opening.  There on the branch it preened and spread its feathers, drying them (I guessed) from the quick dip in the pond.  After 20 minutes it moved from that perch to another tree on the far side of the opening, and it resumed its preening.

Now I could see more clearly through binoculars, and I took a few photos (they turned out quite blurry, sorry). Mary Jo and I are quite certain it was a Peregrine Falcon.  (If bird experts out there differ in this opinion, please let us know.)

About an hour later, a young eagle was seen circling over the same small pond, swooping low, also looking for a duck dinner.

In the last 10 days we've seen the arrival of geese and sandhill cranes, pairs that would in past springs be swimming close to Snake Island or the old, partially submerged Ida Bo dock, or walking the shoreline looking for food.  The sandhill crane pair walked past our home on the ice during Friday afternoon's storm when snowfall was heaviest.  What they're finding to eat, with insects not yet out and ice covering the harbor, is hard to imagine.  The few openings in the ice that appear near shore, where springs keep the waters ice-free, become sought after holes for wading and swimming and finding food, maybe.

We're not the only ones anxious for warmer weather.

-  Dick Purinton

1 comment:

Don said...

Hello Dick,

This has certainly been a winter to remember. Son John told me yesterday that the ice was 36" thick around the Queen, which is docked 9in the Portage Canal, in Houghton. At that rate, we'll probably not get out until the middle of May. Enjoyed the blog as usual. As I told you, I'm tackling some fiction, ,much more difficult, by the way. Cheers.